Philippines' richest person Henry Sy dies at 94

Mr Sy, who had a net worth of US$7.2 billion (S$9.78 billion), died in his sleep yesterday morning.
Mr Sy, who had a net worth of US$7.2 billion (S$9.78 billion), died in his sleep yesterday morning.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MANILA • Mr Henry Sy, who became a billionaire by parlaying a shoe store into the biggest retailer in the Philippines, has died. He was 94.

He died in his sleep yesterday morning, his daughter, Ms Teresita Sy-Coson, and Mr Jose Sio, chairman of SM Investments, said.

Mr Sy had a net worth of US$7.2 billion (S$9.8 billion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, making him the richest person in the Philippines.

His company started as a shoe store in 1948. Today, SM Investments is an empire that includes SM Retail, which operates the nation's biggest supermarket and department-store chains; SM Prime Holdings, the largest shopping-mall operator; and BDO Unibank.

In the nation of more than 105 million people, his malls attract an average of 3.5 million shoppers a day.

"It's not overboard to consider Sy as the father of Philippine retail," said Mr Astro del Castillo, managing director at First Grade Finance Inc. "His grocery, department stores and malls introduced the one-stop-shop concept in the country, and his malls changed not only the practice of retail but the way of life."

Mr Sy amassed his fortune against the backdrop of unstable governments, political corruption and economic contractions, notably the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998.

He continued to expand his empire with new shopping malls and a bank that eventually became the nation's largest by assets.

Today, the group runs 62 department stores, 56 supermarkets, a network of 194 SaveMore grocery stores and 50 hypermarkets.

Mr Sy was born in Xiamen, in China's Fujian province. He emigrated to the Philippines at the age of 12 and started selling rice, sardines and soap at his father's neighbourhood store in Manila in 1936.

The store was burned and looted during World War II. Following the war, he set up a footwear store, and later founded ShoeMart, the nation's largest chain and the first air-conditioned shop to sell shoes in the Philippines, in 1958.

In 1972, Mr Sy opened his first department store two months after then President Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under martial law. Mr Sy opened his first mall in 1985, when the economy was in its worst post-war slump.

"Every time the country is in a crisis, I think and decide where is the best way to go," Mr Sy said in a July 2009 interview. "We have to always think of ways to overcome these limitations."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 20, 2019, with the headline 'Philippines' richest person Henry Sy dies at 94'. Print Edition | Subscribe